IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

American dad celebrating birthday in Turks and Caicos may be jailed there for 12 years

Ryan Watson, 40, faces a possible 12-year minimum sentence after he said he unintentionally brought ammunition to the country.
/ Source: TODAY

An Oklahoma father faces up to 12 years in prison after he says he unintentionally brought ammunition on his vacation to Turks and Caicos.

Ryan Watson traveled to the tropical country to celebrate his 40th birthday when he was detained at the airport for possession of ammunition.

Watson was remanded on bond, and now awaits a possible sentence with no indication from the government on how strict they might be. The law carries a 12-year minimum sentence.

Ryan and Valerie Watson
Ryan Watson with his wife, Valerie, and their children.Courtesy Watson family

“To not be with my kids, to not be home with Valerie right now, it’s the most awful thing that I have ever lived through at this point,” Watson said.

Watson traveled to Turks and Caicos two weeks ago with his wife, Valerie Watson, and two other couples. He said he brought a duffel bag that he thought was empty — but actually contained bullets from a hunting trip he went on months before.

“I never recall putting those that ammunition in that bag,” he said. “But somehow they ended up in there.”

He added: “There was zero criminal intent. I had never, ever intended to bring any type of ammunition into this country.”

The U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas issued a travel alert in September to Americans traveling to Turks and Caicos, warning them not to bring ammunition to the country and to carefully check luggage for any forgotten weapons or stray ammunition.

"The penalty for traveling to (Turks and Caicos Islands) with a firearm, ammunition, or other weapon is a minimum custodial sentence of 12 years," the embassy said in the alert.

Turks and Caicos officials said eight firearms and ammunition prosecutions have involved American tourists since the law went into effect, including Michael Grimm, an Indiana man who received an 8-month sentence for "special circumstances," NBC Boston reported.

Four other people received leniency under exceptional circumstances and were fined, Turks and Caicos officials said.

NBC Boston first reported the couple's detention in the islands as their 7-year-old and 9-year-old waited for them in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

I immediately was terrified because I was like, 'We can’t both be in prison for 12 years.' We have kids at home, and this was such an innocent mistake. We didn’t even know that it was there,” Valerie Watson told NBC Boston.

Valerie Watson has since been released and reunited with her two children, but Ryan Watson is still in the country.

The Watsons said they were closely watching the case of Bryan Hagerich, another American who has been detained in Turks and Caicos for possession of ammunition and is awaiting trial.

The Pennsylvania father of two was arrested in February when authorities found hunting bullets he said he didn't know were in his luggage.

"This has happened to enough individuals already and we certainly don’t want to see this happen to anybody else," Hagerich said.

Hagerich's trial begins on May 3, and may be an indication of what sentence awaits Watson.

“We can’t set any type of expectations on when I can be home to those kids,” Watson said. “That is, and will always be my ultimate goal.”